It may seem that every minute is filled with emergencies, data migrations, backup clean-ups and end-user hand-holding. But it's just possible that IT staff can end up with time to spare. That's the moment to turn to the tasks that get squeezed out by everyday demands. Here's my take on what those jobs might be.
1. Tidy up
When things are constantly hectic, disorder can establish itself in the shop or departmental offices. Yet a clean environment is conducive to efficient operations. So, when things are slow, it's time to clean up, get rid of old and dead kit and even rearrange furniture for a better layout.
2. Create patch cables
You can never have enough patch cables. Although it's simple to order cables in various lengths, ranging from three to 15 feet, you don't always have the perfect length to hand. Buying spooled cable in bulk and RJ45 connectors is far cheaper than buying bags of pre-cut and pre-terminated Ethernet cables.
3. Put cables in order
If you 're used to seeing a tangle of cables whenever you open that server cabinet, you could capitalise on downtime to impose order on the chaos. Of course, you'd have to tackle this job without disrupting anyone's work, so perhaps it's a task for the early morning or after hours.
4. Learn something new
IT is a field that's constantly evolving, so slow times present an excellent opportunity for engineers to acquire knowledge. They don't necessarily have to attend classes. They could just work with a new coding language. Alternatively, high-level admins can show lower-level staff the way round more complex systems. Any knowledge employees can share is a good investment in time.
5. Clean up your code
When under pressure, we sometimes don't write the cleanest code or we may just forget to add comments. Everyone knows the benefits of clean code: easier debugging and rewriting and, in some cases, more efficient execution. We also know that when code is written poorly, cleaning it up can be a pain — so quieter times lend themselves to tackling this potentially laborious task.
6. Test new systems and software
We're always looking for new systems to use but we rarely have the time to test them out. It might be an open-source CMS you've been meaning to try for ages or some new groupware. When things are quiet you may finally get the chance to get those systems up and running and check them over to see if they're up to the job.
7. Document systems and software
Documentation is often left until last yet it's one of the most important tasks around. Without it, your systems end up relying on people's memories — and with the inevitable staff turnover, you could find yourself in a hole. When people leave, you still need to be able to log on to mission-critical servers. Take the opportunity of quiet periods to push on with the process of documenting your systems, software and users. In the end, you'll be glad you did.
8. Audit the network
You should know every piece of hardware on your network — or at least you should have them all recorded. Downtime gives you the chance to audit your network and create digital and paper maps of that topology. At some point, you'll be pleased you created these records. Just ensure that if the map includes passwords, it's stored in a secure location, such as a safe.
9. File paperwork
Your company might still do everything on paper or you may have gone digital. Either way, there's almost always some administrative work to be done. If you're a typical IT shop, you're probably already behind with the paperwork — so now is the time to catch up and perhaps even to get ahead.
10. Run a security audit on your servers
You never know when you're going to come under attack. Given some downtime, you could run a full-scale security audit on your servers. With that information, you can strengthen those systems so you don't have to fret about security when you don't have time to worry.
If you deal with these tasks, you'll keep everyone busy and improve efficiency, security and skills. But what other jobs do you tackle when there's a break in the regular IT workload?
This story originally appeared as 10 tasks to keep your IT department productive during slow times on TechRepublic.
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